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Terrorism Act 2000 (Proscribed Organisations) (Amendment) Order 2007

Volume 694: debated on Tuesday 24 July 2007

rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 2 July be approved.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, proscription of terrorist organisations is an important part of the Government’s strategy to tackle terrorist activities. We would therefore like to add a further two organisations to the 44 international terrorist organisations already proscribed. This is the fifth proscription order under the Terrorism Act 2000.

Section 3 of the Terrorism Act 2000 provides a power for the Home Secretary to proscribe an organisation which she believes is concerned in terrorism. That is achieved by adding the organisation to the list of proscribed organisations in Schedule 2 to the Act. An organisation is concerned for these purposes if it commits or participates in acts of terrorism, prepares for terrorism, promotes or encourages terrorism, or is otherwise concerned in terrorism. An organisation must meet the statutory test before it can be considered for proscription.

When deciding whether to make an order proscribing a group, a number of additional factors are taken into account; those were announced to Parliament in 2001. They are the nature and scale of an organisation’s activities, the specific threat that it poses to the United Kingdom, the specific threat that it poses to British nationals overseas, the organisation’s presence in the United Kingdom, and the need to support other members of the international community in tackling terrorism.

Proscription is a tough power. It means that the organisation is outlawed in the UK and cannot operate here. Membership of the organisation is an offence, as is inviting support for it. Proscription also makes it unlawful to raise funds on behalf of the organisation. Given the wide-ranging impact of proscription, the Home Secretary makes the decision to put forward a group for proscription only after thoroughly reviewing all the relevant information available on an organisation. That includes open-source material, as well as intelligence material and advice that reflects consultations across government and with the law enforcement agencies.

The two organisations listed in the order are directly concerned in terrorism. They are Jammat-ul Mujahideen Bangladesh and Tehrik Nefaz-e Shari’at Muhammadi. The TNSM’s objective is the militant enforcement of Sharia law in Pakistan. It regularly attacks coalition soldiers and Afghan government forces in Afghanistan. It provides direct support to al-Qaeda and the Taliban. It is believed to have been behind an attack on a Pakistani military base in November 2006 which killed 42 personnel. The JMB has claimed responsibility for numerous fatal bomb attacks in Bangladesh since first coming to prominence in 2002. In August 2005, it set off some 500 bombs in all but one of Bangladesh's 64 districts in the space of an hour. The Bangladeshi Government recently announced the execution of six leaders of the JMB, including its chief. However, some sources indicate that the organisation has a significant number of full-time members. There are indications that it is making efforts to regroup to continue its campaign of terror.

The proscription of the two groups will support our international partners in disrupting terrorist activity by making the United Kingdom a hostile environment for terrorists and their supporters. It will also send the strong message to the terrorists that the United Kingdom is not willing to tolerate terrorism either here or anywhere else in the world.

It is important to note that any organisation that is proscribed, or anyone affected by a proscription of that organisation, can apply to the Home Secretary for the organisation to be deproscribed. If that is refused, the applicant can appeal to the Proscribed Organisations Appeal Commission. The POAC is a special tribunal of three members, including a senior member of the judiciary, which determines whether the decision of the Secretary of State to refuse to deproscribe was flawed when considered in light of the principles applicable on a judicial review application. The members of the commission are all qualified to see sensitive material, and a special advocate can be appointed for POAC appellants to argue on their behalf in closed session.

There is ample evidence to suggest that the two organisations are concerned in terrorism, and I believe that we should proscribe them. I commend the order to the House. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 2 July be approved. 22nd Report from the Statutory Instruments Committee.—(Lord West of Spithead.)

My Lords, the noble Lord may know that I have long been in favour of proscription as a useful tool in dealing with the threat of terrorism. Both the organisations to which the order relates seem dedicated to the use of violence. Will he therefore confirm that they could have been proscribed under the original Section 3 of the Terrorism Act 2000 and that there would have been no need to resort to Section 21 of the 2006 Act, which extended proscription to cases of glorification? It appears that this proscription has not been made on that basis. I also ask him to confirm that the two organisations do not pose any direct threat within the United Kingdom.

My Lords, I wish to raise two points on this order. The first is simply a matter of procedure that I raised with the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, when he dealt with this matter. One of our difficulties is that, when we consider proscribing organisations, we are presented with an order which is unamendable. It might help in future, and it would be procedurally satisfactory, if separate orders on each organisation were provided which could be debated in a single debate, with the agreement of the House. That would allow dissent, if appropriate, to be demonstrated.

The Minister said that the two organisations for which proscription is sought must meet certain qualifications before that can happen. I should be clear that we have no difficulty whatever in agreeing to the Government’s recommendation. My problem relates to the TSNM and the JMB. Why, when we knew months ago of the bombings in at least 500 places in Bangladesh, are we only now being told about the proscription of the JMB? Why are we considering the proscription of the TSNM now, when its role, attacking coalition forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan, has been pretty clear? Information is required on why such a long period has elapsed before the order to deal with these two organisations has come before Parliament.

Will the Minister ensure that in future, if there is a requirement for proscription, we are told not only what an organisation’s role has been abroad but, if specific information is available, whether it has any ties in the United Kingdom whereby the security of our country could be affected? In the mean time, we have no problem whatever in agreeing to the proscription of these organisations.

My Lords, we have no difficulty in accepting the Government’s view that these two organisations ought to be added to the list. However, I endorse the two procedural questions raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, and the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia. I would be most interested in hearing the Minister’s answers to these questions. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, asked the Minister whether or not this order could equally well have been made under the previous legislation governing proscription. The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, asked whether it would not be better if, in future, there was a single order for each proscription.

My Lords, I thank noble Lords for the interesting points that they raised. In response to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, yes, this could have been done under Section 3 and did not need to happen under Section 6. The noble and learned Lord also asked whether there was any activity in this country by the groups. We think that a couple of people might be involved with the JMB, but there is nothing regarding the other group. Therefore, we are looking at this matter due to the organisations’ threats to our forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan and the impact on other nations.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, for the points he raised. Again, the answer is that this is a matter of procedural convenience which could be done in another way. It might be good to raise this with the Chief Whips to see how the matter might be taken forward. Again, I confirm that we do not see much activity by those organisations in this country; we are taking this action because of the threat that they cause to our forces abroad and the impact worldwide. We want to show that we are not willing to give any support for this sort of terrorism and to demonstrate that to the countries we are dealing with.

I hope that I have addressed the two procedural points to which the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, referred, and I am pleased that noble Lords recognise that these groups need to be proscribed. In future, we could look at bringing forward such orders in a different way, and I will ensure that we do that, because it might be a little clearer and more straightforward. There is no doubt that proscription is a tough power. The penalties are severe, and we can exercise this power only when there is clear evidence that an organisation is concerned with terrorism. That is part of the reason for the delay before we proscribe a group. It takes time, even though we have seen intelligence evidence of attacks. However, there is a relevant point here, and we must look at whether this process can be speeded up, because it is important to do that.

As I have said, I am satisfied that these two organisations are concerned in terrorism.

On Question, Motion agreed to.